YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 10, 2015

The case for feminism

Ad from Avant Garde "blowout sale" January 2015

Ad from Avant Garde “blowout sale” January 2015

I have written numerous blogs tracking the second wave of feminism (1960s-1970s and on).  See for example https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/. This blog is part of a two-part series: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Many of my prior blogs lament the automatic alignment of second wave feminists with their New Left male “oppressors,” abandoning the situations of women who were not either pro-choice, in the civil rights movement, or against the war in Viet Nam, especially as much of the Left and even those older ex-leftists who became neoconservatives remained at best ambivalent about gender issues. Perhaps these differences between liberal and conservative women are too deep to bridge, since many conservative women deny that they are subservient to males. Some liberal males feel differently, but don’t necessarily act on it.

For instance, cultural historian David Brion Davis once gave a series of lectures at an Ivy League university on race, later published, that stated that the subject of women was as grave a matter as subjection by race, but he saved that remark for his last chapter, and has, to my knowledge, never developed it, not have his students who now dominate the profession at Yale and other prestigious venues.

When I reviewed David Horowitz’s recent book Radicals (https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/), criticizing it for excessive moderation and for putting quotation marks around the word “feminist.” I send the piece to him, for David is my friend, and he welcomed the dialogue, but DH clearly doesn’t see feminism as a political priority, while I do, very vehemently.

Why do I care? For one thing I have five granddaughters and two daughters, who are coping with, or will cope with the same choices that I have done all my life: they will have to choose between stereotypes: Madonna, nymphet, femme fatale, happy mother, party girl, dominatrix, bluestocking, etc. My female descendants are all intelligent and creative, but most might not have the support network commensurate with their brains and talents. Nor are they likely to depart from the “normal” subservient posture in relationship to men, which may combine all these attributes as the illustration I have posted above:  Women as child, yet menacing in black, with short skirt inviting movement of the male hand up her thighs. (This was an ad for a sale from the boutique Avant Garde.) This teen ager is sexually provocative, yet wholesome looking with that pony tail. She will nab an upper-class mate. But will she be emancipated from the tyranny of stiletto heels for very long?

I was told by a nurse who did my blood work that there was a rule at the UCLA famed medical school and home for excellent doctors who tend to all classes of persons, that the female administrators must comply with a dress code that demands “heels”—not flat shoes, or nurse’s shoes, even though any orthopedist will warn women that high heels will inevitably lead to back, knee, and ankle problems as they age. Women must please male authority in the workplace or be fired.

Then there is the issue of androgyny, and the continued preference for hyper-masculine males and “girly” females. This combination of good father and apron-wearing mother, both God-fearing, will lift minority children out of poverty—a common viewpoint among conservatives. The same faction will go to the mat to prevent reproductive rights for women, and will oppose all but heterosexual love and marriage. Behind the opposition to gay marriage, I sense that there is a fear of effeminacy and subjection to the influence of mother, now embodied in the so-called “nanny state.”

I will not belabor the rise of “the moral mother,” or the diminution of paternal authority in the household after the Industrial Revolution, culminating in the welfare state as a bulwark against socialism, for I have written at length about the progressive movement on this website.

But I have no doubt that hierarchies, such as the domination of most women by males, “breed deceit, terror and catharsis” as I stated in passing here: https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/. Men will never know what their female mates are really thinking, as long as the extreme difference in sex roles persists, no more than did the slaveholder know what his slaves really had on their minds, nor does the employer know what his employees are really thinking about his conduct and their jobs.

Perhaps Nietzsche, and not Marx had the correct solution to the organization of advanced societies. But I would hate to think that the battle of the sexes, though insoluble owing to biological differences, cannot be more flexible in what men and women (or homosexual couples) expect from each other.

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June 7, 2014

Marx vs. Lenin

Masks_weird_wonderfulMany of my conservative and neocon friends on Facebook have difficulty in separating “socially responsible capitalists” from hard-core revolutionary socialists. This blog continues my rumination on The Hunger Games, but with an emphasis on the sharp differences regarding the shape of the future utopia within “the Left.” I am particularly interested in the power of the state as embodied in any kind of planning bureaucracy, as this notion of “Big Government” is under assault from the Right.

I started reading Marx while at Pacifica Radio. I was most interested in Marx’s theory of alienation (an emotion I strongly felt as a married woman), but was not aware at that time of how different the original Marxian vision was compared to Marxist-Leninism as it is called, and that became familiar to me primarily through Stalinists and Trotskyists whom I met at the radio station and in graduate school. Upon reflection, I was probably closer to Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism, which sharply differed from the Third Worldism (Maoism) that dominates academe today. She was a strong adherent to the views of early Marx, that proposed that the socialist revolution could only come when the entire world was industrialized, and the working class sufficiently educated to take power, abolishing the exploitation and alienation that Marxists insisted was present in capitalist (classical liberal) society.

Here is a quote from The German Ideology that I found while wondering why Katniss Everdeen was so keen on hunting and gathering (see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/01/the-hunger-games-trilogy-reactionary-and-postmodern/, and note my recent discussion of Hobson’s influence on Lenin here: https://clarespark.com/2014/06/04/did-bureaucratic-rationality-cause-the-holocaust/.

[Marx:] “…as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. …”

Note that Marx’s examples all refer back to pre-capitalist stages of social organization, and are silent regarding what future work might look like, apart from the work we associate with primitive cultures. And yet a few pages on, he explains that without technological innovation, world-wide, there can be no conditions for overthrowing modern industrial exploitation and alienation:

{Marx arguing against German counter-Enlightenment philosophers:] …it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and…people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about my historical conditions, the [development] of industry, commerce, (agri)culture, the [conditions of intercourse]….(Robert C. Tucker translation: On the relatively recent publication of this work see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_German_Ideology. The quote from early Marx suggest that he would be considered to be a Menshevik, not a Leninist.)

While still at UCLA, some undergraduates approached me to observe what they viewed as bullying in a class taught jointly by Robert Brenner and Perry Anderson, two commanding presences in the history department. Lucky me, I chanced to attend the class where the Luxemburg-Lenin-Stalin debate was covered. The issue was whether revolutionary socialists should leap-frog over capitalism and support “reactionary” liberation movements in colonized undeveloped countries, with Luxemburg arguing against such tactics, but Lenin (like Mao after him) was all for fighting [the Western oppressor], no matter how backward the society. This was surely not Marx’s vision.

popularfront

“Bureaucratic centralism” is of course the preferred form of statism for the Leninist Left, while Marx was a strong advocate for the withering away of the state after a brief period of popular worker rule.

It was the genius of the progressive movement that they selectively appropriated those features of revolutionary socialism that buttressed elite rule, but in their statism, they should be associated with the “anti-imperialist” Lenin, and to a lesser extent with Marx and Luxemburg. But one should not blame conservatives for confusing New Deal liberals with communists. The Popular Front against “fascism” (i.e., the limited government of the classical liberals) made that bewilderment possible. (For more in this vein see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/21/managerial-psychiatry-jung-henry-a-murray-and-sadomasochism-1/.)

Hugo Gellert poster, 1924

Hugo Gellert poster, 1924

March 28, 2014

Populism and pop culture: good or bad for the republic?

Populism3Much of this website has been devoted to the analysis of populist demagoguery, with ample quotations from the past and present. Another priority of mine has been the state of popular culture criticism, emanating from both Left and Right. This blog is a guide to my own thinking about 1. Populism as ideology and its targets; 2. Populism as reasonable suspicion of elites and “experts”; and 3. The populist character of major television shows and movies despite the impression that single figures or “billionaires” directly direct their content.

First, the original populists were farmers demanding that currency be placed on both gold and silver standards. They also resented the excessive rates demanded by railroads that transported their goods. Muckrakers like Frank Norris (The Octopus, 1901) appealed to this constituency and their progressive sympathizers, who went on to co-opt the original populist demands, for instance, Louis Brandeis’s first major study was of railroads, their practices and finances. (On Norris see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Octopus:_A_Story_of_California. On Brandeis’s career, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis#Against_monopolies. I read Melvin Urofsky’s biography, that highlighted the early interest in railroads.) populistantisemitism In a mass society, “flooded” with “swarms”  of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not surprising that the invention of movies would appeal to the new arrivals and their taste for spectacle, glitter, adventure, shape-shifting, scandalously naughty and corrupt rich people (not dissimilar from those who had dominated the European countries from which they had fled), sex, and violence (part of their everyday lives, both here in the new tough cities, and in the old country), triumph over adversity, and shows of virtuosic force, either military or in sports.

Movies and television shows remain populist in the sense that they appeal to ordinary working class and middle class viewers (“ordinary people”), with only a few arty movies made to maintain respectability and an aura of literariness to the more educated urban viewer. And such offerings might be reactionary, as in the esteemed film The Remains of the Day (1993); I wrote about its content here: https://clarespark.com/2014/04/21/remains-of-the-day-revisited/.

In my experience, leftists that I once knew did not depart from this essentially Leninist populism. (Marx was more favorable to the bourgeoisie, who were developing the productive forces, and who were likely to split over the inevitable working class revolution that he anticipated. Whereas Lenin was influenced by J. A. Hobson, who publicized the notion that an international cabal of Jewish financiers would not only inspire imperialist war, but would control newspapers and other media. Marx’s early essays “On The Jewish Question,” or on money as the universal pimp, however, dealt with Jews as hucksters and the embodiment of the money power, whose reign would be overthrown in the new dispensation.)

For instance, Pacifica radio [where I was program director for eighteen months (2-81 through7-82), and before and after that, a volunteer program producer on the politics of the arts–1969-1998] was plainly populistic and anti-imperialistic, not radical in the Marxian sense, though the news department supported the uprising in El Salvador and the Nicaraguan revolution. I recall my boss, the manager Jim Berland, warning me not to allow programmers to use the term “capitalism.” Our target should be “big business.” This is a typical petit bourgeois (populist) move, and bears no resemblance to European or American communism as originally formulated. Similarly, like other “community broadcasters” we were to appeal to the listener sponsors by mentioning our deviation from “corporate/commercial media”—this referred to presumably billionaire-controlled outlets intended solely for the spread of propaganda favorable to imperialism, finance capital, and rich people in general.

The flaw in this reasoning is that big bad mass media always was populist—but with commercial interruptions. NPR and PBS make their appeals on that basis (sometimes claiming the higher objectivity and gravitas). The antisemitism of the old WASP elite is retained in its denigration of “Hollywood” as generically Jewish—a claim that may be taken advantage of by some professional right-wing pundits , who want to return “traditional Christian values” to “popular culture.” Populist impulses exist across the political spectrum, but are frequently reactionary.

What is not populism?Elites” or “experts” may be corrupt or legitimately superior in their talents, labors, and contributions to society. To view each and every one with skepticism may be populistic, or it may be valuable inquisitiveness that we must support, even as “discovery anxiety” sets in. But don’t look to the bought-intelligentsia and kept-journalists who “analyze” politicians, social policy, education, and mass media productions. They are part of the legitimacy apparatus that is partly responsible for the Great Dumbing Down of our country. Ask your children to make a distinction between a democracy and a [democratic] republic, and watch their puzzled faces. I am sometimes told that my blogs are “over the heads” of even educated readers. I welcome questions if I yield to esotericism or obscurantism. It is probably my writing, which is sometimes dense and compressed, and not the usual thing on the internet. populistrage

July 2, 2013

Groupiness, group-think, and “race”

EyeshapesThe close attention that the media are giving to the George Zimmerman trial in Florida is being justified by reporters because the verdict may trigger civil unrest in the form of “race riots.” Thus it is assumed that politicized “blacks” and “Hispanics” are potential mobs, like guns cocked and ready to shoot.

Yesterday I asked some Facebook friends what they thought “race” and/or “racism” meant.  I got some intriguing replies (several amazed me), that will be answered here.

First and foremost, no Russian revolutionary deployed the notion of “race” to divide their capitalist enemies. Marx had some nasty things to say about Jewish money and hucksterism; he was also demeaning about “the idiocy of rural life.” Lenin, influenced by J. A. Hobson, took up Hobson’s  anti-imperialism and, like Hobson, blamed wars on a ring of international Jews in finance and the media. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.)

In his own imagination, Lenin was defending the colonized victims of capitalist imperialism, and many a New Leftist or post-colonialist, sought to defend “the Other” from the depredations of evil white people in Europe and America. (On formulations of “the Other” see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.) As good Marxist-Leninists they were “anti-racists”.  Until the New Left period, communists were ardent foes of “racism” along with antifascist liberals like Julian Huxley who sought to criticize the assumptions of racism and even ethnicity. (See We Europeans (1936). Huxley and Haddon argued that the original meaning of “ethnos” signified a given population, with no intimation of group characteristics transmitted through heredity.

Which brings me to “racism” as it was taught to me in graduate school. Everyone knows that physical variations in skin color and susceptibility to diseases characterize different human groups as they have evolved.  But “racists” take that further: they create a hierarchy of “races” in which they claim that each race has particular mental capacities, emotional, and moral characteristics that pertain to every individual in that “race.” (For Herder’s counter-Enlightenment project in developing the notion of the rooted cosmopolitan see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/. Such thinking led straight to Hitler and the notion of the racially pure “organic nation” or “people’s community.”)

The notion that communists of any sect put “race” above “class” as a way of predicting the future is ludicrous. It was certain liberal and New Left American historians, contemplating the expansionists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who collapsed “class” into “race.” The U.S. field is still divided over this matter, with a very few still admitting class struggle to the classroom, while others prefer “racial” struggle to explain the horror of “American identity.”  (Gender and Nature got added to that model, sometime during the 1970s. See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. It is true that some leftists applauded “whiteness studies” in order to conform to Leninism. Why the Left  has not outed black supremacist doctrines as advanced by James Cone puzzles me, for “black skin privilege” is a contradiction in their social theory. See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/. )

Blueeyedwhitedragon

There was a time when people threw around the word “race” to signify any group of people, for instance, the English race, the French race, or any other group. Throughout this website I have criticized the notion of national character, which can only be valid to a limited extent, i.e., owing to the laws and traditions of any particular people or peoples in this oddly fractured world that is often divided up by diplomats into internally incoherent “nation-states” as spoils of war.

Multiculturalism, as I have explained ad nauseum, is covertly racist while pretending to be anti-racist.  MC is groupiness at its most lethal. Anyone can spot a hater, but the racialist discourse of progressives is harder for most people to decode.  Beware of “professionals” whether these be social psychologists, teachers, textbook writers, or other advocates of groupiness, for they look not into the minds and emotions of unique individuals, but make broad generalizations about group minds and group-think.  Compare Freud to Carl Jung and you get the picture. Freud dealt with suffering individuals; Jung with racially-specific archetypes. One was a would-be healer, the other a quack, whose occasional formulation of universal archetypes was a sop to his liberal followers. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/05/10/jungians-rising/. )

Such quackery could kill us all. We are one species, and humanity (though we may differ in how we view conflict or how we identify the source of evil) is objectively linked together, forever.  

brownwhitehands

August 16, 2012

Marx, anarchist rivals, and our enigmatic President

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/. Also, https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/]

Because the history of radical thought is rarely taught objectively, if at all, in the universities, much of the electorate is at the mercy of any anti-statist conservative who takes it upon himself to write a book about his political enemies, tarring them with the brush of either communism, fascism, or “totalitarianism” (the latter conflating communism and Nazism/ fascism, which have differing political genealogies, and differ sharply with respect to the Enlightenment).

We remain in an attenuated political culture, because leftists and liberals alike dominate the teaching of the humanities in the public schools, and elite universities (both private and public). Right wing protest attempts to overcome the leftist monopoly with largely religious claims that are often flawed, for instance, holding “atheism” or “materialism” or “science” or “technology” or “feminism” or “gays” responsible for the perceived decadence of our times.

At the same time, many vocal post-60s leftists refuse to acknowledge that this is a big country, with diverse belief systems. Hence their political tactics may be intolerant and lacking in empathy for those who find purpose and meaning in Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, etc. Enter the fiercely argued culture wars, where “secularism,” to take one example, has been transformed from the separation of Church and State to “godless Communism.” Do we enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels? She must be the devil, for she was a materialist who lauded creative achievement in this world. What we may not do is view her as the product of a particular moment in history, when collectivism (either Soviet Communism or the New Deal) was justified as the realization of altruism, a quality held to be lacking in dog-eat-dog hyper-individualistic industrial society, controlled by “economic royalists” as FDR named his opponents. At a moment when social bonds were mystical (as envisioned by either the corporatist liberals or the Soviets), Rand defended science, technology, and the materialist Enlightenment:  for Rand social bonds were rational and based on competence in manipulating the materials of this world.

What to do when there is no common basis for agreement regarding fundamental values, let alone the application of the Constitution to an industrialized or post-industrial society such as our own? My personal solution is to defend scientific method, political pluralism (on “cultural pluralism” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/26/cultural-pluralism-vs-multiculturalism/), and creative freedom against all authoritarian tendencies, whether these emanate from the Left, the “moderate men,” or the Right. That is the purpose of the website, and decades earlier, was the project of my radio programs on KPFK-FM, Los Angeles. Whereas “leftists”(including anarchists) claim to stand with “the oppressed,” I stand with artists, the unleashed imagination, and the creative spirit in general, which I believe each one of our species possesses.

Yesterday, I promised my Facebook friends that I would try to write a blog distinguishing between Karl Marx and his anarchist rivals. Looking over the various Wikipedia biographies of the major actors in this (anarchist) trend in European history (see below), I was daunted, even floored. But I did discover that Noam Chomsky admired such anarchist thinkers as Bakunin (add Perry Anderson to that list), while Martin Luther King, Jr. is better seen as a descendant of Tolstoy.

As for Marx versus Lenin versus Mao-Tse-tung, I will summarize all too briefly what their differences were here (and note that I am drastically oversimplifying, and everything I write will be seen as reductionist and dumb by those who are intellectuals in the many left-wing sects):

  1. Marx was  hardly the sole critic of industrial society, but it is his apocalyptic prophecies of socialist revolution that distinguish him from his rivals. He believed that the working class would become immiserated, and that portions of the bourgeoisie would desert their class to join with the workers to “expropriate the expropriators.” This could  only happen in advanced industrial societies where the working class comprised the majority. Marx had little use for petit-bourgeois radicalism  (such as utopian socialism advanced by many of his contemporaries, including Robert Owen and the Fourierites in America). And he famously despised “the idiocy of rural life” and societies he considered to be backward, which aroused the fury of such as the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist Edward Said, along with other primitivists and antisemites. Most controversially, Marx predicted the withering away of the state after a relatively brief period of working class dictatorship. In his fantasies, the creative spirit soon would be enjoyed by everyone, once the commodifying capitalist boot was lifted from the necks of hapless workers.
  2. Soviet Communism. It was not supposed to happen in a backward country, but Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades took advantage of the Great War and Russia’s defeat to mount a  coup and a separate peace. Lenin was deeply influenced by J. A. Hobson, and one emphasis was breaking the stranglehold of finance capital (“the Jews”). Rather than allowing worker’s councils (as had sprung up in numerous locales), he supported “war communism” and “bureaucratic  centralism” that easily was transmuted by Stalin to “socialism in one country.” Meanwhile, Trotskyists broke with Stalinism to foment international revolution, while I. N. Steinberg, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, fled for his life.
  3. Maoism. The Chinese Communists broke with Moscow from about 1958 onward. Mao’s theory that the peasants were the revolutionary class in China appealed to many radicals  with an agrarian bias. Such incendiary radicals as H. Bruce Franklin,  however, managed to defend Stalin while advocating Third World revolution  in the 1960s. Here is where the New Left and the anti-urban, libertarian, anarchistic “counter-culture” could join hands. “Old Guard” members of SDS finally lined up with the Democratic Party, while some of the “direct action” folk blew themselves up and their ideological offspring can be found in parts of the Occupy Wall Street, anti-globalization demonstrations. In pop culture they may “rage against the machine.”
  4. The irony of Marxism. For true Marxists, the bourgeoisie was a progressive class. This is basic, for without Adam Smith and Company, there would be no industrial society that could lead to a utopia that would eliminate toil and drudgery for the majority of humanity. For the others mentioned here and below in the biographies of the most important European anarchists, the bourgeoisie was evil, amoral, and thieving of the labor of workers and peasants. Nihilistic  gangs such as Baader-Meinhof or the Weathermen (as embodied in Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers) hold to the violence of George Sorel. To what extent their beliefs have penetrated youth culture I cannot say for certain, but it should worry us all.

Bernadine Dohrn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_materialism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proudhon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakunin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Kropotkin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Sorel

Finally, given the intricacy of these European social movements and their chief ideologues, I hesitate to apply them willy nilly to American political figures. We are too given to easy labels, without nuance and without knowledge of revolutionary theories that were developed on crowded continents with autocratic ruling classes. There is no substitute for studying the labor movement in America. Let the intellectuals fret over “Why there is no socialism in America.”  We might do better to study shifting coalitions in American political parties as they existed in the past and in the campaign year of 2012. Are the varied components of either the Democratic or the Republican parties compatible with each other, or are they at odds? And does or does not this internal incoherence complicate our picture of the often enigmatic Barack Obama and his challengers?

[Illustrated: Isaac N. Steinberg, briefly in a coalition government with Lenin, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, and author of Workshop of the Revolution, that denounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the suppression of the mutinous Kronstadt sailors. Steinberg and his family–including his son Leo who went on to be a great and revered art historian–fled the Soviets in 1923. Steinberg went on to search for a homeland for the Jews that would not make them vulnerable to a sea of Arab neighbors.]

I.N. Steinberg

January 13, 2012

Mark Twain’s failed Yankee

Soviet poster

When a writer chooses a name suggesting that two personas occupy one body (as in the nom de plume Mark Twain), the reader should take this self-definition seriously. Years ago, Dr. David James Fisher, psychoanalyst and intellectual historian, wrote a short paper on Twain’s difficulties with writing Huckleberry Finn. As I recall, in the scene where Huck, after determining that he feels as bad doing right (obeying the law) as doing wrong (risking a link to abolitionism), and hence will not turn the escaped slave Jim in to slave-catchers, Twain put down the manuscript and did not pick it up for several years. In any case, in the published version, the paddles of a looming steamboat capsize the raft and both Huck and Jim are in danger of drowning.

The next Twain fiction was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), with pointed illustrations by Dan Beard, the latter said to be even more of a radical democrat than Twain. As for the plot, briefly, a 19th century weapons engineer, an ex-worker risen to foreman of the Colt factory, after a blow to his head, wakes up in 6th century Britain, where he introduces modern science, weapons, factories, modern communication including railroads, education, and newspapers in order to rescue the oppressed masses and to institute a Republic, modeled after the Northern U.S., perhaps New England. This blog reacts to my third reading of the novel, with some thoughts regarding ambivalence in the Missouri-born author, with special reference to the ways some 20th century critics have appropriated the novel, in my view, missing what is most interesting about it. Here comes a brief meditation on my response to the novel.

Mark Twain was heavily promoted in the Soviet Union, for more reasons than his objection to the Spanish-American War. Reading CYKAC, one can see why. The narrator of the tale, Hank Morgan states that, regarding the French Revolution, though he started out as a Girondin (a moderate bourgeois, like Condorcet), he ended up as a sans-culotte! Moreover, both Twain and his fictional persona believe that armed struggle is the only route to revolution. When you tote up the casualties of the Terror, they are as nothing compared to the crimes against humanity inflicted by the heartless aristocracy. Soviets elevated Robespierre and other Jacobins, while many conservatives and centrists alike have drawn a straight line between Jacobins and 20th century Fascists and Nazis.

Moreover, Marx was a great admirer of the American Civil War, as are his followers among left-liberals. It was one of the great world revolutions and the most radical moment in U.S. history, they aver. And Hank Morgan’s modernizing animus against the medieval Catholic Church, allied as it was with the vicious, predatory aristocracy, would sit well with Soviets and their supporters. Morgan’s graphic descriptions of medieval barbarism, which many communists associate with the equally savage Gilded Age bourgeoisie, surely endeared Twain to those Soviet propagandists who associated late capitalism with fascism and imperialism. (See my notes on Henry Nash Smith, below in bibliography.)

Mark Twain ca. 1889

One wonders what communist readers would make of the following passage from Twain’s fantasy. I wonder if he was not disclosing one aspect of his own white-suited psyche as he complains that the common people buy into caste position, without a murmur of dissent or complaint: Twain suddenly returns to the present, in my view, defending his manhood, called into question by his youthful folly in briefly joining a Confederate militia, which he then deserted. But recall that Hank Morgan admires the manly gait and elegance of King Arthur. Part of Twain may admire the aristocracy he so vehemently rejects:

“[Referring to ‘the alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their cruel hands against their own class in the interest of the common oppressor’] This was depressing—to a man with the dream of a republic in his head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when the ‘poor whites’ of our South who were always despised, and frequently insulted, by the slave lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were pusillanimously ready to side with the slave lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of the very institution that degraded them. And there was only one redeeming feature connected with that pitiful piece of history, and that was, that secretly the “poor white” did detest the slave lord and did feel his own shame.  That feeling was not brought to the surface, but the fact that it was there and could have been brought out under favoring circumstances, was something—in fact it was enough, for it showed that a man is at bottom a man, after all, even if it doesn’t show on the outside.’” (UC Press, Mark Twain Project edition, 1984, p.297)

One can almost hear Gyorg Lukás applauding Twain’s/Morgan’s reference to false consciousness, a failing that could be rectified by re-education by a communist vanguard or the “cultural Marxism” of the Frankfurt School critical theorists.

In the brief time that I have looked into recent appropriations of Twain’s text, I have seen only these two points brought out: First, the novel created a sub-genre of science fiction: the time traveling narrative; and second, that Twain was primarily objecting to the medieval revival of his period, and blaming the Southern rebellion as the consequence of besotted readers of Sir Walter Scott’s medieval romances. (Marx also read Scott, incidentally.)

But, such a (culturalist) reading misses one of the most obvious themes of the novel: that modern technology, especially modern weaponry, has changed the nature of warfare; that such innovations as the Gatling gun (mentioned many times in the text, and occasionally deployed in the Civil War), plus the shocking and unprecedented casualties of that conflict, had led, combined with the passivity and herd-behavior of the masses, turned Twain against the very optimism with which “the [Nietschean?] Boss” had begun his innovations. By the end, the would-be republican Twain has killed off his protagonist; he is no radical, but a bohemian who been fantasizing freedom, but finally bows to the all-powerful masters. Hank Morgan’s modernizing efforts cannot stave off the all-powerful Church and its befuddled masses. He has assumed the tragic, nihilistic demeanor of the author of The Mysterious Stranger. No Soviet commissar would have approved such disillusion and cultural pessimism, although Henry Nash Smith, remarked that Morgan’s top-down modernization plan was Soviet in conception.

Many a historian has studied the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Few, if any, would disagree with the notion that it is impossible to modernize without movement toward  mass literacy and numeracy, competitive markets and the scientific world-view that markets encourage, except those Leninists, perhaps, who believe that the dread bourgeois phase of development can be leaped over straight into heaven on earth. To them, I recommend Twain’s famously ‘failed’ tragedy, with the proviso that the author, in Life on the Mississippi (1883) had hard things to say about soul-less machines and even mentioned Frankenstein. Henry Nash Smith erred in identifying Twain with Hank Morgan (ostensibly a laissez-faire capitalist), although there is something of Hank in Twain’s character.

Bibliography.

Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain’s Fable of Progress: Political and Economic Ideas in “A Connecticut Yankee” (Rutgers UP, 1964). While the quasi-socialistic William Dean Howells and Melville-admirer Edwin Stedman thought that the novel was Twain’s masterpiece,  Smith makes the book an evasion of the true nature of class struggle in the laissez-faire Gilded Age; a product of “Promethean” Twain’s regrettable Anglo-phobic “jingoistic nationalism”; and finds philistine folk humor too weak a reed to carry the immense project of the novel. Twain was simply not up to the challenge, and problems with his own finances explain the unconvincing and depressing finish. He does not note a possible reference to Civil War casualties, nor does he associate the knightly class with Southern slaveholders, but he does see Twain as sympathetic to some noble aristocrats. He is also put off by Dan Beard’s naughtily [Jacobin] illustrations, that had no basis, Nash says, in the text. I disagree with that judgment. Beard’s affinity with Tom Paine was obviously shared by Twain throughout.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Connecticut_Yankee_in_King_Arthur%27s_Court

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur.

http://www.twainquotes.com/19600306.html. Joseph Wood Krutch on how the Soviets got Twain wrong.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Takaki, author of Iron Cages: Race and Culture and 19th Century America (Knopf, 1987). Takaki associates  Hank Morgan with Melville’s Captain Ahab.

http://tinyurl.com/7y8usec. Richard Nielsen quoting Max Weber. Teaches at Boston College.

http://tinyurl.com/7wxxnnf. E-Book version of Connecticut Yankee with introduction, including social views

http://www.newswise.com/articles/mark-twain-staunch-confederate-once-upon-a-time-150-years-ago-baylor-professor-says.

http://tinyurl.com/7kw4n77 Daniel Aaron on Mark Twain’s Civil War politics

[Tom Nichols translation of the illustrated Soviet Poster:] “And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one–our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.” (http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html)

The Soviet poster says:  “We can set up a special flag, just the same flag with the white stripes black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones. — Mark Twain”  Then at the bottom: AMERICA – THE NATION OF TRAMPLED RIGHTS.

October 10, 2011

Populist catharsis on Wall Street

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia U. professor

The Occupy Wall Street movement has the support of Old Leftists (Stalinists, Trotskyists), populists, tenured professors steeped in Keynesian economics, Big Labor, and an assortment of young people worried about their student loans and the lack of job opportunities. Some pundits on Fox News have been interpreting this protest movement as a product of disillusion with Obama, and a movement to his Left. My view is that it is a calculated event and part of his campaign for re-election, and perhaps even managed and instigated out of the White House, expressing Obama’s own Leninism as reinterpreted by Keynesian economics and a long-lived “soak the rich” philosophy that is directed against imputed Jewish control of everything: As “the money power” [the obscenely bloated Jew] controls banks, hedge funds, the media, advertising, and plants computer chips in our brain so that the ‘Jewish’ mask is not penetrated by ‘Jewry’s’ victims and sets them against their parents.  I.e, Through the control of “public opinion” the money power perpetuates its oligarchical, illegitimate control, and celebrates “corporate greed.”

No one should see OWS as anything resembling a leftist revolt, and those [New Leftists] who are crowing over it should hang their heads in shame, for they have sold out, possibly in the expectation that they would be rewarded with advancement in the new Obama dispensation.

This is how 19th century Marxists (not Leninists) operated in the past; unlike OWS, they were generally analytical, focused, disciplined, and had a goal in sight:

1. They identified a revolutionary agency—the new working class that, in their analysis, would be increasingly immiserated and would stop production in a general strike and take over the reins of power, this time abolishing classes altogether and, with a more just distribution of resources, would institute communism: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It was vague, but Marx at least saw the bourgeoisie as a progressive class that had created and developed  the productive forces that would enable capitalism’s transcendence into a society of abundance and the defeat of needless toil.

2. Along with this optimistic prophecy, at any particular stage of struggle, the Marxists asked themselves, “given the correlation of forces, what is the task of our generation?”  This required constant study of every institution; also focus on the likely allies to revolutionary struggle. Marx himself predicted that parts of the bourgeoisie would break off and join the working class. Crucially, one didn’t expect “the streets” to be the site of structural transformation. There had to be a ripened situation, such as a crisis of capitalism. So it seemed in the Great Depression, and hence hordes of intellectuals, workers, and small businessmen joined the Left or the Popular Front with its antifascist agenda. (Some even stayed there after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, and their children often remained tied to some form of Leftism, no matter how attenuated .)

3. The romantic part of Marxism is this: there could be no preconceived plan for the just society—a plan that we could all look at. There were no Federalist Papers or copies of a proposed Constitution for the working-class revolution.  Rather, it would evolve organically out of revolutionary struggle and the leadership of the “conscious” working class. It could not take place in a technologically backward society (here is the point of divergence from Leninism and Maoism or Third Worldism).

Surely, only a half-educated demagogue such as Keith Olbermann or a “progressive” neo-Keynesian college professor such as Jeffrey Sachs would see the present situation as ripe for revolution, in a series of demonstrations populated by frightened, undereducated youth and opportunistic labor unions or diehard Stalinists. Is there socialism ahead? I doubt it. Maybe fascist dictatorship given the populist rage and Jew-hatred that is cropping out even as I write this, and not only in the U.S.

I am not a Marxist myself, but one who appreciates the wealth-creating potential of free markets and limited government. The Republican Party should do a better job in explaining supply-side economics and defending those aspects of conservation and environmentalism that are grounded in sound science and medicine. And responsible historians and journalists should remind the public that Hitler’s base consisted of right-wing populists*: the petit-bourgeoisie, including small producers (peasants and artisans), unemployed and unorganized workers, civil servants, and everyone who profited from the expropriation of “Jewish” property and “Jewish” jobs. It is a canard of the Marxist-Leninist Left** that fascism is the triumph of finance capital and big business, though, to be sure, elements of those groups (in addition to monarchists or the army, including the Freikorps) served in coalition with Hitler until he kicked out such officials as von Neurath and Schacht, 1936-38.

*I am not forgetting the left-wing populism of the Strasser brothers. But that militant anti-bourgeois wing of the Party was decimated in the Night of the Long Knives.

** Lenin was influenced by the populist antisemite J. A. Hobson, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.  How many students today can describe the debate between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin or Stalin about imperialism and backward societies?

June 13, 2011

Weinergate, Papa Freud, and the Imperfect Father

Henry A. Murray’s story as told by a political ally

While I was doing my dissertation research on literary history in America between the wars, I noticed that Freud and Marx were usually paired together, and that both were anathema to the “moderates” who reconstructed the humanities curriculum, mostly at the end of the 1930s. Marx and Freud were regarded as intruders into the canon, for both were taking an inventory of personal history and the big picture (such as the material and ideological conditions under which works of art were created)  in ways that threatened the “natural harmony” that the moderate men wished to restore.

But of the two “Jewish” intellectuals (both were atheists and hence deficient in unifying “spirituality”), Freud was probably the more threatening, for after all, populism was an important thread in American political history, and Marx’s dim view of big business and finance capital was attractive to small businessmen and many professionals, including poorly paid teachers and other academics. But to think that the pursuit of happiness might be sullied by “everyday unhappiness” (as Freud argued throughout, but especially in his thoughts about the Great War, in which he asserted how lightly civilization sat upon the overpowering demands of sexuality and aggression), was a real downer.

But more, Freud’s jaundiced eye at perfect fathers (and of course religion) threatened already weakened paternal authority in the family, and restoring such paternal authority was a major aim of the social psychologists who were allied to the Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps that is why one of the chief left-liberal propagandists, Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Clinic, Jungian, and long-distance psychoanalyst of Hitler, came down so very hard on Melville’s great novel that followed hard on the heels of Moby-Dick. I refer to Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and partly discussed in my last blog. Murray was one of those who advocated conflating the images of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, so as to improve “morale”—in his view, the morale that kept Americans loyal to the “moderate conservative” agenda (i.e., the New Deal). Perfect father figures were necessary as the  “focus of veneration” and he deemed Melville to be “pathologically puritanical” in judging his own father so harshly for his amorous peccadilloes. (Actually, Melville was not complaining about sex as such, but rather about the abandonment of an illegitimate half-sister by his supposedly Christian family. But Murray was himself a womanizer, and focused on sex alone, as indeed, did his authorized biographer, Forrest G. Robinson.)

Throughout this website, I have come down very hard on both idealization and demonization. Psychoanalysts call this separation of other people into all good or all bad, “splitting”. Splitting is very bad for mental health, as the inevitable disillusion that follows idealizing our parents or other love objects as real human frailties are revealed, can lead to rage and depression.  We don’t expect children to see their parents as imperfect human beings, struggling with sometimes overpowering emotions, such as sexuality that can be wayward in male and female alike. Demagogues count on transferring childish idealization of parental figures to themselves.  And what demagogues do is demonize their opponents, while promising the restoration of pre-adolescent family harmony to their audiences.  In other words, demagoguery leads to mass regression; to a dependent childhood state where the critical faculties are not yet developed.

There is a remedy to the siren call of the demagogue. It is an education in economics, and in the skills that enable adults to analyze the costs and benefits of proposed public policies as they emanate from either political party. But before we can do that we have to summon the courage to look inside ourselves and to try to get to the sources of our deepest motives that determine loves and hates. In the case of Weinergate and the huge emotions evoked in many, we might visit our images of ourselves as holier-than-thou (and most certainly holier than the damned Weiner). I admire every writer with the nerve to do this, as Melville surely did in his great, much-abused, and under-rated novel Pierre.  Some call this looking inside without covering our eyes as demonic (in the cover to the paperback edition that I have, Pierre’s face is darkened as he merges with Isabel –the latter an emblem of suffering humanity). I call this intense self-scrutiny sanity and moderation.

January 2, 2010

Jottings on the culture wars: what are they?

Ad, Harvard Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2009

[Added July 6, 2013: There is massive confusion on what the culture wars are about. Bill O’Reilly pits “traditionalists” against “secular progressives” as if either group was internally coherent; while David Horowitz views [anti-Western] whiteness studies as making a “melodrama” that may explain the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin debacle ( http://tinyurl.com/l5wgmrl).

This essay tries to unpack the culture wars by analyzing the confusing and unsettled sociology that has polarized America. Some of my questions interrogate  both sides in the “culture wars,” rejecting the emphasis on culture to the exclusion of history, political science, and social theory.  (My own views tend toward the classical liberal: thus I am one of those “secular progressives” denounced as enemies to Easter Bunnies and Christmas trees.)]

It is true that politics are messy, by contrast, sociology as the product of German Idealism, is not.  Look back to Herder, Goethe and their successors who promoted a rooted cosmopolitanism. Their identity politics are tied to the utopian longing for stable national (or international) identity where its mosaic bits assume a beautiful pattern, stretching and yawning perhaps, but not confused, not switching, not turning on each other.  With the mosaic in place (i.e., all “ethnic” groups embraced and expressing themselves, but monomaniacs/socially irresponsible capitalists cut out), hostility/prejudice will become irrational: “inclusiveness” and state regulation will have removed rational sources of disaffection. [1]

The identity that matters to enlightened “moderates” equates “totalitarianism of the Left and Right” leaving pluralistic “liberal” democracy as the emancipated, yet irrationalist, alternative.  However, the antifascist pluralism they represent is not the liberalism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie (the classical liberals) but a shattering of what is stigmatized as the Egotistical Sublime (Ariadne’s enthusiasm for labyrinths, or the long view of history.).  Following conservative sociologists (e.g., Max Weber, a German patriot and supporter of the Weltkrieg), their social world is packed into separate categories: political, economic, and the cultural, yet the latter has a life of its own that cancels the politics and economic interest; human competence is dissolved into Negative Capability, at best, grasping only fragments.  The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders merges the individual with its “ethnic (multicultural) communities”–all joyously “fused” in the state (or is it the Great Chain of Being? or nowhere at all? is the state both there and not there?): a totally mystical “public interest” in societies with antagonisms between the owning classes and those dependent on them, the latter with nowhere to go.  This corporatist liberal “web and woof” is the spiritual hammock supporting us against “totalitarianism” of both the Left and Right. 

Where do the left-populists and social democrats fit in?  How can there be anti-racist politics while thinking in racialist terms?[2]  All the questions I have raised are intertwined with the larger debate over epistemology: Heraclitus vs. Bacon and the empiricists.  How do ordinary people, responsible for exercising the duties of citizenship, relying upon observation, study, and experience, know that their actions and judgments are not the products of a flawed methodology?

This blog, like others on this website, addresses the contemporary crisis in the humanities, a feverish condition said by some Rightists to have been imposed by Gramsci, Lukács, Frankfurt School critical theorists such as Adorno and Marcuse, and New Leftists who have taken the strategic heights in education and social policy.  With the ascendancy of Reagan republicanism, revisions of the literary canon and the history curriculum generated by multiculturalism, feminism, and black nationalism have been seen by some conservatives as mindless new developments leading to resurgent antisemitism and neofascism.  I share their concerns, but many conservatives cannot defend their own records nor can they reform the reformers, for they have not situated curriculum reform within the problematic of “democratic pluralism” and its vicissitudes (e.g. Lipset’s and Raab’s  The Politics of Unreason (1970), a venue created by “pragmatic” conservatives long before the “tenured radicals” of the 1960s generation began their “Left” stampede).[3]

As an artist and scholar familiar with some of the history of antidemocratic propaganda, psychological warfare, and censorship, I am disappointed and impatient with the scholars who have taken part to date.  I see mostly polarization and self-righteousness, little self-criticism or generosity or insight: more feints among different factions of counter-Enlightenment vying for the vanguard position, each waving the banner for humanitarian values and methodological sophistication.  I see little robust intellectual confrontation between radicals, liberals and conservatives.  And the wars rage on and on, spurred by the dubious appropriations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and chaos theory.[4]  Underneath the chatter and jargon and ad hominem insults to colleagues and to humanity at large, the questions of greatest importance to our survival lie buried; no reform strategies can be formulated without answers, and the questions are susceptible to empirical investigation:  Is there or is there not inevitable class exploitation in bourgeois democracies? Can social democratic reform remove what the revolutionary left insists are structural antagonisms?    Are contracts between persons, corporations, and nations contracts at all if one party is coerced by the other?  And who shall adjudicate disagreements if the weaker party balks?  If many people are oppressed, how shall they organize themselves to redress grievances, or should we breed a race of supermen?  Are modernization and industrialization really destroying the planet?  If so, what, if any, mass activity could halt or reverse the destruction?  What are the responsibilities of families, schools, corporations and the media in providing the critical and emotional tools to understand and ameliorate our worsening condition?  Have they ever done so?

Here come the masterless men. As hitherto orchestrated and conducted, the culture wars have diverted attention from these life-and-death issues, as perhaps they were intended to, as they have always done.  Nor have conservatives admitted the source of their anxieties: the tender moment of late adolescence when young people are separating from families of origin and lacking family responsibilities that later on might discourage political radicalism.  Conservative social psychologists applying the lessons of psychological warfare are alert to the power of modern fiction in making subversive notions attractive and acceptible.  Take the case of Herman Melville and his “elusive” or “ambivalent” texts, which though apparently conservative or reactionary, have aroused the energies of expert propagandists of the Right who fear his effect on young readers. For instance, some noted psychological warriors have explained how radical messages may be smuggled into harmless appearing fantasies, making stressed readers more receptive to new ideas, ideas they would normally reject as alien if encountered in an explicitly political context:

“…Of crucial significance may be those who are under strain, ambivalent, at once torn between loyalty to patriotic values and to the new values being offered by the communicator.  Such a segment may be a crucially important target, and it is necessary to understand the nature of its ambivalence and the implications for psychological warfare possibilities.  While such a segment is drawn to the new values, its allegiance to the old is made more compulsive by guilt feeling evoked by its attraction to the new.  Among such a population we should expect strong ritualistic conformity which would serve to deny evidences of hospitality to the alien values.  Beneath this ritualism, however, we should also expect to find the repressed side of the ambivalence, the side which represents a disposition to espouse the new values.

Research is now needed on the readiness of individuals under strain to accept communications which represent both the expressed and the repressed sides of their ambivalence.  It has been suggested that such individuals will reject any overt statement of the repressed side; but that they may pay attention if the repressed value is expressed in fictional form, so that it may be received on the level of fantasy, thus protecting the receiver from the need to decide whether or not he believes, or is willing to accept, such a conflicting value.  It is our belief that research along lines such as these would have far reaching operational usefulness for psychological warfare.” [5]

 [Clare:] Such sophisticated machinations at the highest levels of government suggest why apparently harmless cultural artifacts as the novels students read in high school and college can fluster vigilant ideologues.

Blunted tools have brought us to the current impasse over teaching methods, curriculum, and standards.  We are besieged by crazy-making, historically incorrect specters of our own fully feeling, fully thinking selves: The modern artist as slipping Titan, the obsessive Faustian autodidact, the obsequious romantic lover, the miscegenating rootless cosmopolitan, the vindictive muckraker.  Their unpardonable sin is the bad news that uncontrollable curiosity and unbalanced temperaments have shoved in our faces: there are or may be class antagonisms that cannot be reconciled by conservative reform, i.e., by negotiation and adjustments that do not severely threaten the economic interests of ruling classes.  So the hyper-individualistic “materialistic” Jew is converted to “the [idealist] new historicism”and disappears into “community” as defined by others; the judenrein center finds itself ensconced in the administered state.[6]

1930s intellectuals sometimes called this condition fascism; today it is more benignly labeled ‘multiculturalism,’ and is touted as the remedy for prejudice, scapegoating, and intolerance.  As social policy its longevity has been guaranteed by state, foundation, and university funding.  To speak against it incites accusations of Right-wing racism and worse.  Don’t bother applying for a CPB grant or a job in public broadcasting if you disdain the multicultural narrative of world history as racial/ethnic conflict, the genocide and ecocide perpetrated by “white males” or “the West”–a sad story that new textbooks, curricula, and television or radio programs celebrating “diversity” will bring to a happy end.

Although “Left” and “Right” have been internally at loggerheads over this social policy, all parties agree that insurgent blacks, women, and gays of the New Left initiated and now preside over the new wave of reform.  Before that (the early 1970s), an unbroken, unchallenged master narrative of Western progress is said to have reigned in academe and the media.  For the hard Right, the narrative was rational, unified and benign; for the hard Left (including anti-imperialist whites, people of color, and women, but not materialists), the narrative was entirely malignant; for the “moderate” critics straddling both positions, the narrative was contradictory and ambiguous, but would be resynthesized with the vigorous new blood and perspectives of the hitherto excluded, the better to launch a really Enlightened non-Marxist New New Left.[7]

My work takes none of these idealist positions, but seeks to document some of the major thinkers and social movements that promoted cultural policies coinciding with their perceived class interests.  No materialist has publicized the history of multiculturalism or “identity politics,” a history which cannot be deciphered without recalling competing prewar definitions of fascism, protofascism, and antifascism.  Hence I reject as ideologically distorted previous attempts to periodize the culture wars.  I suspect that the media, publishing, and academe are structurally precluded from describing the origins of this dispute for fear of damage done to the reputations of most postwar “liberal” intellectuals, whether positioned on the Left, Right or Center.  Nobody wants to say he has been successful by conforming to pseudo-democratic institutions, in some ways indistinguishable from their analogs in Germany and Italy before 1945; nobody wants to admit he is suffering from a massive failure of nerve.

CultureWarrior

     So-called multiculturalism is a reactionary ideological offensive that  confused individuals with groups and suppresses economic explanations for conflict and change in favor of cultural anthropological ones.[8]  As a manifestation of German Romanticism, it was an aesthetic theory buttressing a political structure: an irrationalist völkisch “aristo-democracy” (Herder).[9]  The German Romantics and their popularizers in England and America, men like Carlyle and Emerson, waved their supple poetic individuality, unique, yet imperceptibly diffused into race and nation and time itself as Schlegel had advised.  The aristo-democrats were the blooming correctives to the dessicating “mechanical” rationalism and universalism that had undergirded popular sovereignty for the seventeenth-century political theorist of constitutional democracy, John Locke.  In the eighteenth century, Piranesi would visualize this Lockean world in a series of engravings, his nightmarish urban spaces/prisons.  Lord Byron counterattacked with Lockean Prometheans, images of indomitable humanity: fatherless, yet kind, ameliorative and intellectually fortified.  In the later nineteenth century, Piranesi’s desolate, gigantic scenes of torture would reappear in James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, the City ruled by numeracy and literacy personified in Melencolia, the Queen patterned after both Dürer’s famous image of writer’s block, and George Eliot, Thomson’s contemporary, the realist novelist, author of Felix Holt, Radical.

I have mentioned just a few instances of cultural conflict over accountability: the culture wars are fought over you and me, non-experts in an advanced, complex, and hierarchical, yet “democratic” industrialized society.  Confident in the capacity of ordinary people to test their betters, Locke, like ourselves, was up against centuries of conservative antidemocratic propaganda on behalf of a tribal or feudal order where either Nature or arbitrary authority were taken for granted as immovable. Not surprisingly, social obligations (contracts) were vertical, links in the Great Chain of Being, not horizontal agreements between equals, each party theoretically free to walk away from a bad deal.

NOTES.

[1] For cultural nationalists, the mosaic represents “self-reliance” as expressed in economic autarky, the unit being the ethnic nation.  Such organization would make it difficult for workers to unite across “ethnic” or “cultural” lines. By biological determinism, I do not mean that the followers of Herder had a materialist understanding of the natural sciences. As John Crowe Ransom or Eric Voegelin understood the völkisch idea of a national culture, there would be a spiritual uniformity in a people who had interacted for a lengthy period with their specific material environment, evolving into a balanced relationship with nature and each other. This was the point of T.S. Eliot’s famous remark (1933) about limiting the number of freethinking Jews in the interest of local stability. See Ransom’s crucial essay “The Aesthetic of Regionalism,” AR Vol. 2 (Jan 1934): 290-310, for an elucidation of scientistic localism that infuses contemporary concepts of multiculturalism and compare to Herder’s concept of nationality as described by Eric Voegelin, The History of the Race Idea (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989).

[2] Until I read the political sociologist Eric Voegelin on the history of the race idea, I did not understand this point. Voegelin rejected the concept of “race” as too materialist because of its biological implications. Instead he embraced Herder’s seminal idea of cultural nationalism.

[3] See the tone set by Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Education (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1990): “…the men and women who are paid to introduce students to the great works and ideas of our civilization have by and large remained true to the emancipationist ideology of the sixties” (xiv)…a new form of thought control based on a variety of pious new-left slogans and attitudes (xvi)…The denunciations of the “hegemony” of Western culture and liberal institutions that are sounded so insistently within our colleges and universities these days are not idle chatter, but represent a concerted effort to attack the very foundations of the society that guarantees the independence of cultural and artistic life–including the independence of our institutions of higher education (xviii).”  The radical canon includes Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (7); quoting Schiller, Kimball praises dissent and complains that the tenured radicals now occupy the moderate center (188-89).

Few have challenged Kimball’s periodization of the “P.C.” debate, nor are the “radical” challenges to the canon seen as élite initiatives, in which a folkish idea has been co-opted and nervously managed by the corporatist liberals on behalf of social stability.  See for instance Gregory S. Jay, “The First Round of the Cultural Wars,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/26/92, B 1-2: The move toward multiculturalism emanated from academic “have-nots” after the 1960s.  Also the militant Heterodoxy, edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, Vol.1, #1, “PC Cover-Up,” which argues that left-over Stalinist progeny, 1960s veterans of the New Left, are fighting a rear-guard action which “must be fought to conclusion”: the future of America hangs in the balance.  The writers decry the apocalyptic mentality of “the Left,” chiliastic originators of twentieth-century brutality. [added 1/5/2010: since I wrote this note, I have tended to share the Horowitz-Collier sense of urgency, especially after studying the vogue for Maoism on the Left and chiliasm on parts of the Right.]

A similar urgency informs a more recent debate on PBS (McNeil-Lehrer, 10-26-94) between Lynn Cheney, former head of NEH, and Professor Gary Nash, director of the UCLA National Center for History in the Schools which has produced a curriculum guidebook for grades 5-12 (flexible and adaptable to local conditions and preferences, according to New York Times, 10-26-94, B-8).  Cheney charged that the forces of political correctness have triumphed in the historical profession, and are destroying belief in a flawed, but on balance, great nation; Nash defended his guidebook as “a revolution” in the teaching of history, which will deemphasize “dates, facts, and names” in favor of critical inquiry into an evolving history which is always “provisional and contingent,” sensitive to the presence of women and minorities (labor not mentioned in the TV program, though Nash’s Urban Crucible celebrates the role of radical artisans in the American Revolution).  When charged by Cheney with denigrating all wealth (but not that of an African king) Nash contrasted Carnegie with Rockefeller.  Both Cheney and Nash say they want a critical approach to US history; both agree that a revolution is in progress. Joyce Appleby, president of the American Historical Association sees the culture wars as the chief struggle of our times (conversation with the author).

[4] See Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) for a spirited attack on such appropriations and all anti-Enlightenment tendencies in the humanities.  The authors (who seem sympathetic to sociobiology) suggest that scientists may go their own way, teaching the humanities themselves if the present situation is not remedied.

[5] John W. Riley, Jr. and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., “Research for Psychological Warfare,” A Psychological Warfare Casebook, ed. William E. Daugherty and Morris Janowitz (Johns Hopkins U.P., 1958): 543.

[6] I am adopting the formulation of generic fascism as a centrist social movement that has obliterated liberalism, forcing agreement between the goals and interests of capital and labor, as suggested by David Stephen Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society 1931-81 (University of Manchester Press, 1987).

[7] For the latest example of the moderate position, see Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars (N.Y.: Henry Holt, 1995).

[8] If ethnic and gender studies were organized to deal with populations as they have been historically defined by others and often themselves, then there would be no objection from anti-racists.  Such programs need not ignore class issues, nor need they mythologize in search for glorious ancestors.  However, these programs were institutionalized in response to status group politics, and tend to reinforce biological determinism by their very organization.  As I have argued at public meetings, the separation of gender and “racial” issues in special programs has served as an excuse for “regular” curricula to ignore the needs expressed by previously excluded groups to see society and history as a whole.  See David A. Hollinger, “Postethnic America,” Contention 4 (Fall 1992): 79-86, for an interpretation that superficially resembles my own; however, he does not look to the possible structural incapacity of our society to respond to the social democratic reforms he proposes, or the structural antagonisms that make “common ground” a utopian wish or a tactical compromise.

 

November 17, 2009

Melencolia I and the apocalypse, 1938

In my reposted blog on panic attacks https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/, I mentioned the use by Eric Gill of Dürer’s famous image. Here is the image as drawn by Eric Gill’s son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier for Gill’s book Unholy Trinity (1938). Opposite the illustration is this text by Eric Gill:

pastiche of Durer’s Melencolia I by Denis Tegetmeier

MELANCHOLIA—This is a very gloomy picture, and quite right too. There is no remedy for our troubles. The sick ‘old lady’ has got to die someday. I think any kind of mass conversion–as when Ninevah repented with three days of sackcloth and ashes–is not to be expected. Perhaps some kind of healthy barbarism will follow the war, pestilence and famine which are upon us. That is very likely. Nations and states go through a life cycle just as humans do, and though many will endeavour to soften our last days—it is astonishing how we cling to the deception that horrid things only happen to other people & not to us—we must today recall the words of St John in the Apocalypse:

‘Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all. And the voice of harpers and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee. And no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; and the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth’ . [end Gill, there is no more text on the page]

Is there not a popular Hollywood genre of the apocalypse brought on by those commercial values foisted upon the world by merchants (a.k.a. Marx’s Jewish hucksters)? Would there have been a Renaissance, or an Age of Discovery, or the expansion of the West without them? Would we have great cities of the type anathematized by such as the arch reactionary Eric Gill without these dread traders? How much has this antimodern narrative penetrated into the popular consciousness to the detriment of mental health? And to what extent did the genre of film noir reflect such fears? Or such recent films as Revolutionary Road?

     In my view, we neglect such questions to our peril. If we cannot recognize “progress” where it has actually benefited humankind, how can we even begin to talk about appropriate remedies for emotional distress (depression! anxiety!), let alone public policy in such crucial matters as health care reform?  Just asking. For more on the popularity of “Melencolia I” in the last two centuries see the passages on James Thomson (“B. V.”) in https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/ , part one of a two-part essay that shows the links between antisemitism, misogyny, and antimodernism.

[Added in the early evening, submitted to one of the H-Net discussion groups:]

I want to launch this hypothesis: that antisemitism, like sexism, is underweighted as a cause of social malaise or what used to be called “neurosis/neurasthenia.” Those who subscribe to the History of Antisemitism list have done decades of work on the history of antisemitism, yet if it is taken up at all in the media, some crucial facet of it is neglected. Why?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Probably most of the Left does not want to admit that Marx was anti-Semitic in his early essay “On the Jewish Question.” Taking that further, the very notion that “capital” is inherently exploitative would seem to come from the old and incorrect notion that Jews loved money more than their neighbors. (Were there bitter Jews who fit the stereotype? Why would there not be? But if we reject the idea of race and national character, it is insane to attribute such avarice and heartlessness to all Jews who ever lived.)

2. The New Left and the counter-culture of the 1960s defined themselves against the soul-less cities (see the blog), celebrating rootedness and other tropes of the agrarian ideology. Remember the class base of utopian socialism in the 19th century? It was not the working class, but would-be patricians of the kind once identified as aristocratic backwoodsmen by G. C. Webber in his book on right-wing factions. Do I detect the color Green in their vaporings?

3. The Jews, in league with certain Scotsmen, are blamed for the disenchantment of the world. This was brought home to me by the J. C. Squire papers at UCLA. (Squire, a Tory poet, traveled from Fabianism to support for Italian Fascism. He was part of the English Melville revival.) It is also spelled out in Herman Melville’s sketch of a Dissenter in his late poem, _Clarel, a poem and pilgrimage in the Holy Land_ (1876). These works build upon the pervasiveness of the mad scientist in popular culture, made famous in spin-offs of Mary Shelley’s _Frankenstein_.  The best book I ever read on the subject of disenchantment was Tillyard’s short work, _The Elizabethan World Picture and Shakespeare’s History Plays_. As the Biblical higher criticism proceeded in the 19th century, Melville nervously complained about the loss to imagination by historical analysis of the Bible. His despair reflected that of James Thomson, author of _The City of Dreadful Night_ . We are back again to Dürer’s Melencolia I and the panicky reaction by Church and King to the advent of the scientific revolution, the Reformation, and other seemingly apocalyptic events. If the Jews are constantly seen as the vanguard of modernity (either implicitly or explicitly: think of the diabolic trinity of Marx, Einstein, and Freud), they get the blame. And a scientific outlook becomes “reductive” and an abomination.

4. If one is an upwardly-mobile assimilationist Jew (on the lam from mom?), it is probably little comfort to acknowledge the persistence of genteel antisemitism in the canyons of Manhattan, or in the heart of the non-Jew one has snagged. This hardly needs elaboration. Better to repress the entire subject.

If we underweight antisemitism as a destructive force in the human psyche, imagine how bad is our underestimation of the power of sexism and patriarchy. To what lengths will the ‘feminist’ ‘anti-imperialist’ go to minimize the desire to control women and mothers in particular, and not just in the Muslim world? I will not belabor this point here, except to note that for Eric Gill,  Melencolia is a sick old lady who would be better off dead than modernized/urbanized. History for these antimodernists is not susceptible to human understanding and agency, but is a subset of “natural history.” When we understand that, there might be some progress in the teaching of the humanities.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/.

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